– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

  • January 30, 2012
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • Bob Stokstad

MD Project: Building a Cafe Racer, Part V

Emgo headlamp looks right (the company specializes in period reproduction lights, controls and mufflers) and works better than the original equipment. Holes in the brackets can be used for turn signals.

When we left our cafe-racer project, we had all the major assemblies: frame, suspension, motor, bodywork, electrics and wheels. All that’s left to do is put it all together and get on the road for some riding impressions.

It’s easy to say all you need are a motor, frame and wheels, but we all know that’s not true. Your bike could have the greatest motor and best-handling frame, but if there’s nowhere for your ass, hands and feet it’s kind of worthless. I knew that for a cafe racer to be a cafe racer, it had to have clip-on bars (or clubmans, if you want to do it half-assed) and rear-set footpegs. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but I see a lot of motorcycles pimped as “cafe racers” with stock footpegs and clubman bars, and very little other modification. Low bars without rearsets make no sense — it’s like wearing the top half of a Superman costume with jeans and sneakers. It may be more comfortable, but it just looks wrong.

To make rearsets, rather than buying fancy pre-made ones, we decided to do what a period modifier would do — make our own. Charlie O’Hanlon at Charlie’s Place cut up an old handlebar and used his welding skills and odds and ends to fab up some … interesting-looking but very functional rearsets. They mount to the stock passenger footpeg/swingarm mounting plates, a great way to get two functions out of one part.

Woodcraft makes these accessory risers for its three-piece clip-ons, making it easy to alternate between touring comfort and proper trackday riding position.

For handlebars, I decided to go with what I know. Woodcraft Technologies is a terrific company that has been supporting racers and trackday riders by building strong, affordable, high-quality rearsets and clipons that are easy to install and repair. The Woodcraft 3-piece design allows assembly in minutes (you don’t have to pull the top triple off to install), and replacement bars are only $15. Woodcraft makes the clipons in sizes from 29-55mm, covering just about any bike with forks (the CB400F fork on this bike uses 33mm tubes). Of particular interest to the 40-plus crowd—accessory risers that bolt on to the Woodcraft clamp to lift the bar up an additional 3 inches for touring or trackday comfort. Sadly, the risers won’t work on the CB350—the top triple clamp pinch bolts get in the way.

For lighting, I didn’t need to look too hard for a solution. Taiwanese company Emgo makes a whole range of bolt-on stuff for cruisers, sportbikes, dirtbikes, ATVs and cafe racers. A classic chrome 7-inch headlight bucket with a 55-watt H4 halogen bulb—what more did I need? Emgo also sells inexpensive chrome brackets, or polished aluminum ones if you want to get fancy. Emgo sells through dealers, so call your local parts counter for help. For a taillight, I sourced an LED taillight/brakelight/license-plate lamp combo unit with built-in license-plate bracket for less than $25 from CapscoMoto.

I gave a lot of thought to brakes, but in the end, we decided the stock CB400F setup would work. The antiquated single-piston front caliper should be fine for such a light bike, but to be sure, Charlie added a steel-braided front brake line and rebuilt the caliper and master cylinder.

Everything else was replaced with OEM Honda parts—a large number of which are still available through your local Honda dealer’s parts counter—or aftermarket replacements from companies like Motion Pro or K&L supply. We left final-drive gearing stock, and a simple, period-correct non-O-ring roller chain sends power to the back sprocket. One embarrassing niggle we found on final assembly—the Jemco exhaust for the CL350 (this project started with a CL350 frame) is a 2-into-1, which means I can’t use the centerstand, as the exhaust crosses under the brackets. Since the stock sidestand mounts to the footpeg brackets, we would now have to make our own sidestand, which we’ll weld to the lower frame rail. In the meantime, I’d have to find a wall, tree or friendly passer-by to hold my bike up when it was parked. How authentic can you get?

The final hurdle—the rubber grip pads on the gas tank, which we had removed so we could paint, were so old and dried out they proved impossible to persuade back onto the freshly-painted tank, even after warming them with a hair drier. Luckily, a poster on a discussion forum I frequent recommended a product called Rubber Renue from MG chemicals. A blend of xylene and methyl salicyate, Renue is smelly, hazardous and very effective. After a two-day soak in the wintergreen-smelling stuff (wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated place away from your house, unless you’re already divorced) the two pieces were as soft and flexible as brand new. I can image this would be a very good solution for those hardened carb boots that can hang up a carb cleaning on an old bike for days. The grips went right on, although they still don’t sit perfectly flush.

Finally, I got a voicemail from Charlie—your bike’s ready to ride.

Next: Riding impressions.

Home-made rearsets: how you had to do it back in the day.


  1. Joe H. says:

    I was so anxious to check out Part IV and Part V after seeing all the paint, wheels, exhaust, etc., in Parts I through III.

    Pretty disappointed in the final product. Those rearsets? How do you plan to keep your boots planted? The battery bracket welds are crude. And what are those flat washers welded in front of the battery for? Also can’t do hardware store fasteners; have to use genuine Honda nuts and bolts. No flat washer under the exhaust hanger bolt. What’s that cable improperly routed in front of the right fork tube?

    I dig your writing though.

    Nice effort at first; came up short at last.

  2. Rick W says:

    Those footrests should be rewelded by someone who knows what he’s doing. That welding is substandard and possibly dangerous.

  3. Reinhart says:

    Nice bike. I think that your rearsets may need a surface that offer more traction for you boot, especially when wet. Otherwise, looks to be a lot of fun!

    • Gabe says:

      I thought the same thing, but it’s actually not too bad. And my buddy Al was slavering at the chance of knurling something.

      Instead, I just used a pair of unused Pro-Grip handgrips I’ve had in my garage for 10 years! They damp vibes and provide plenty of grip.

  4. Tony says:

    The new Headlight and mounting system looks good. I’ve installed a pair of their mufflers on one of my previous bikes. I’ll have to keep them in mind for some of my future projects also.
    Thanks, Tony

  5. MGNorge says:

    I’m impressed with the looks of the new light bucket. Looks like a natural.

  6. Steveski says:

    Great job Gabe & thanks for keeping us up-to-date with the build. The bike is cool!

    I love the new retro-cafe movement…. so much more cooler than f’n chop’rs….

    But I’m still torn… do I wait for the new 350 KTM Duke or build a Vintage 350/450 Honda Street Tracker with wide, dirt track bars, etc…

  7. Gabe says:

    Some of this is asthetic, some is performance/practical. Clip-ons offer more adjustment (up-down as well as forward/back), are lighter, and look better. The downside is they are more difficult to install and generally result in a less-comfy riding position.

    Clubmans are easier and cheaper to fit (and I assume that’s where they got the name–easy for club racers to show up at a race, switch to the low bars for the races, then switch back for the ride home) and may give you a more comfortable riding position. And maybe that’s why I don’t like them–they don’t scream “commitment” they way clip-ons do…

  8. John B says:


    does that front master cylinder need a clean and polish? Looking forward to the detailed results!

    Cheers JB

    • Gabe says:

      It’s been rebuilt and works perfectly, but yeah, it could use a polish…I may want to just replace the whole thing.

  9. Goose says:

    ooo!, First post

    Looking good, I’ll look forward to whole bike pictures.


  10. JJL says:


    After seeing your project kick off I started trolling some of the cafe/vintage racer forums and found that like you may others don’t like clubman style bars. Is the preference for clipons for aesthetic reasons or is there some sort of performance advantage? I only ask since most street fighter and naked style bikes run dirt bike or superbike bars with no apparent negative handling impacts.

    BTW very nice bike.